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Performance Art – Live Media Performance Art of Francesca Fini
written by Sudipta Dawn. Feb 19, 2017
Live media performance art is an art form which has evolving in its current form since the 70’s.
Francesca Fini is a live media performance artist from Italy and she was in India in January – February 2017, for a series of performances and performance lab in Kolkata, Mumbai and New Delhi. Her workshop called ‘Visionary Actions’ was held at Cube Culture, Kolkata and also at Natya Ballet Center, New Delhi.
Here is a brief report based on the workshop and its reflection of Francesca Fini on performance art in general.
The workshops opened up new possibilities in new ways to conceive, prepare and present performances or ideas merged aesthetically with digital technology, allowing for a new experience to emerge, which morphs the “human artist into a super human entity” within the aesthetic constructs of performance art. We experiment with the limitations and the potential of the body in a relation to the digital interface. Marked by a constant disruption of poetic fluidity and stressing on the refocusing of one’s energies and sensibilities into a new form which challenges the notions of poetics and aesthetics, it forces one to come to terms with parallel universes and of course needs a great deal of multitasking. The notion of happiness which is ephemeral is replaced by a sense of urgency to transcend reality and indeed create a new reality. The influence of the Dadaist movement is extremely pertinent in Francesca Fini’s art. However aesthetics rather the concepts are of greatest concern for her work and hence execution is most important. Her language is fundamentally that of a film maker. Live media is a kind of evolution in performance art is a language where one is elaborating a subject without a plot. Performance art is about here and now and you, and less about a memorized and enacted character. It is site and situation specific unlike theatre. It has intent and explores the space and the moment. The performer or the actor has no actorial motivation; it is a movement towards non acting. One is creating a discourse using the moment, media and space like second after second and not merely with the body. In live media performance art, the performer is constantly moving between the physical into the digital world. Hence as the computer is analyzing the analog information one has to deal with the limitations and discretion of the digital world as an important aspect in assertion of the output. In scanning the space through a technological device, new elements emerge which were previously unknown. The output quality has a randomness about it. This is an evolving process of the movement and the digital which emerges in a live media performance art project.
What we do on Facebook can also be considered live media performance art project. Here, where everyone has his moment of 15 minutes of fame. Performance art triggers a new perception or experience in the audience. The ‘online’ has opened different possibilities for live media performance art to be produced and disseminated. Networked Live Performances like ‘Low Lives’, which is a festival of performance art online and several others, are now very popular in the performance art community. ‘Second Life’ which is a virtual world is now a favorite refuge of artists, particularly live media performance artists, who are creating some breathtaking and significant art on this platform. Here real people project their imagination on digital bodies and hence a new sensibility is emerging which is the body of the mind. ‘Second Life’ offers virtual spaces like ‘Odyssey’ which is a performance stimulator, ‘Machinima’, which is a platform for film makers to make films online, apparently a very useful tool for story boarding and visualization for film makers in the physical world. “Life is a loop, a movement’. Performance Art takes you beyond the limits of the physical arena and throws up different possibilities. Performance art questions and seeks to redefine the concept of ‘art’ in the present context. It is an evolving form and is changing and evolving, and is dynamic in nature. It makes the production of art very accessible. The use of simple everyday devices like wifi, mobile phone and it’s camera, motion sensing software, hacking software, closed circuit camera are used to create ‘happenings’, which are conceptual and could create very dramatic and impressive video art. The intimacy of the device form and functionality for example is creating different reactions from the subject, which at times are liberating.
Tales of restorations : Of ‘Ophelia did not drown’ – An experimental film by Francesca Fini at Bikaner House
written by Sudipta Dawn. Feb 22, 2017
Had the opportunity to organize and watch the screening of ‘Ophelia did not drown’, at Bikaner House, New Delhi. This 90 minutes film is an experimental cinema, performance art based,directed by Francesca Fini & produced in association with Institute Luce Cinecittà, Italy. The earlier notable screening film premiered at the Clermont-Ferr and VIDEOFORMES International Digital Arts Festival & has been shown at the Watermill Center, a laboratory for performing arts headed by Bob Wilson in New York .
Bikaner House, a restored brick & plaster heritage bungalow in Luytens, originally designed by Charles G Blomfield, an architect for the Raj as a palace for the Sir Ganga Singh, who was the Maharaja of Bikaner & a distinguished soldier & statesman.
Sitting at ‘Char Bizzare’, a restaurant at the now restored Bikaner House which was given a fresh leash of life by its current owners – the Rajasthan Government and marveling at the painstaking efforts of conservation architects Abha Narain Lambah, who virtually rescued the building from decrepitude and negligence, the discussion over Kashmiri cuisine soon meandered into an animated ‘adda’ on arts & craftsmanship in design and what could possibly happen or could be done to bring traditional craftsmen to terms with contemporary arts & design. It was interesting that the original designer of Bikaner House, Bloomfield had very low estimation of the Indian craftsmen, and I quote “Indian labour is very largely unskilled; at best it is traditional rule-of-thumb craftsmanship. The native craftsman who can understand a working drawing is rare and it is not an unusual thing for the architect to demonstrate what he wants by using tools himself.” I wonder how the statement could be considered in the current context ?? Maybe not too untrue !!
Now to the film which bought me to Bikaner House. Bikaner House does not have an auditorium for screening and hence the makeshift arrangements as brilliant as they were had its technical limitations, yet offered a fairly decent viewing experience.
‘Ophelia did not drown’ is an aesthetically brilliant film, where the narrative flows through an interpretation of the narrative through performance art and black & white archival footage from films, documentaries and news. Francesca Fini, who is a feminist, has chosen this title deliberately to give Ophelia’s a second life, which is perhaps no better than its literary antecedents. However Ophelia lives, her fate no longer tied to that of Hamlet, no longer is she a victim and the great poetic injustice done to her is now corrected. Francesca Fini mentioned during the Q & A session at the end of the screening that the film is based on her own personal journey through events & cultural influences which she explores through the use of archival footage & expresses herself through her skills as a performance artist. Francesca’s commentary through the footage of various events which shaped the cultural condition of the working class in Rome, which she superimposes on the various avatars of ‘Ophelia’, who inhabit varied spaces which are not in the palaces but in the surreal zone, where exists like insects a different world exists, maybe inhabited by artists, who are not fit to be pets, but are mere irritants, interests of research, the ‘otherness’, which must be either assimilated or obliterated. The characters, who are performance artists themselves bring about a disturbing and sometimes radical interpretation of the narrative which are weaved & edited into beautiful art by Francesca. In a sense she restores ‘Ophelia’, rescues her from the tyranny of the palace of the old, of the normative perceptions and places her in this world, the world of insects perhaps, to withstand and endure
Interspersed with staccato voice overs, cult rock music of the 80’s and the most striking rendition of ‘Howl’, by Allen Ginsberg and the corresponding image of the Hippie paying tribute to the wonder of Italian art, while being derided by the working class wired to the rationality of the industrial system. One wonders the influence which Fernanda Pivano, who was an editor, journalist, literary critic & a major force in post-war Italian culture, would have had in shaping of the film.
How does one approach an experimental feature. film, which break away from the familiar narrative driven structure or a poetic or dramatic language. Does one approach the subject in the film, or is the film is the subject itself. As i’ve mentioned this film has been presented as an art installation and also has been screened as a part of a performing arts residency. To approach this film through our understanding of film, would be futile, as it is clear that the experimental nature of this film is subverting the language of film making albeit subtly. It is the beginning of an attempt which i’m sure will be addressed in subsequent projects, to find neologisms and parallel universes. So i quote Nietzche here in “The basis of thought is first and foremost the act, and only secondarily the agent (Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil). Like one of the audience said, ‘ i think i saw Ophelia at the end in Wonderland’.
The film and the performance which followed (more about the performance later), Bikaner House & Delhi, quite an invigorating mix for an evening well spent.
‘Blind’ : An interactive live media performance by Francesca Fini at Bikaner House New Delhi
written by Sudipta Dawn, Feb 24 2017
There after a 30 minutes scheduled break after the screening of ‘Ophelia did not drown’ which stretched till 40 minutes maybe savoring the chicken kababs humus and bread, the crowd by this time has swelled a bit people returning from work trickling in. The table was laid with five cat iron bowls with dry color power, the kind used for the festival of ‘Holi’. Francesca is ready the lights turned out in the hallroom, which of course doesn’t drown the hall in total darkness quite to the contrary the majestic chandeliers in the anteroom refuses to back down and flows through the glass doors to live this day with ‘Blind’ by Francesca Fini.
This is a low fi live interactive act by Francesca Fini a basic web cam interacts with her act, and lets her laptop software render abstract graphics & sound which are pre-configured to respond to stimulus of colours. Francesca starts with painting herself in black and then uses the colors – green, red, blue & yellow to start the dialogue with the digital. The starting graphic in which a post human model emerges from within a matrix, to take this journey through the cosmos to the sun in a whirling dervish movement, a style which is a recurring essence of Francesca Fini’s philosophy of art. Soon she blindfolds herself and much like a street performer or a magician continues with the dialogue lost as she in her inner world, but constantly aware of the position of the camera and the buttons on the laptop. What emerges is dynamic art which is edgy and provoking, it submerges me into a vortex of thoughts which the performer is not aware of. She doesn’t know anymore about the space or the audience, she is in a dream world, as we – the audience are privy to it.
The act disorients the audience’s expectation as the performer always stays in the non acting mode and the the graphics or sound is bereft of the poetic fluidity which one may have have expected of a performance. At the post performance chat most of the audience said that they had never seen anything like this before. Someone asked about the significance of the colors to her personally, Francesca Fini explained that the colours are signifier of various sites of memory.
Janardan Ghosh’s blog
Theatre is transcendental. Just like experiencing ‘Brahman’.
Primordial Theatre was used to communicate with the Gods. It seems that the notions of God and performance were born together. What was the pressing need for these creations? One common answer could be to search for an abstraction named ‘Truth’. While ritualistic theatre has thinned a lot, the basic purpose with which theatre began has not changed. The search for Truth.
Oglam and Oglam in collaboration with Padatik had maintained that pursuit. Reflections, Adalate Flounder, Ha Radhe, Bhool Rasta, Beyond Freud and Hayavadana were significant journeys in that direction. Krshno Pokkho – Darkness Intercepted is a walk uphill from our last station. Technically, my last plays explored the text in as many ways possible in a given space. From Raganuraga Bhakti (Ha Radhe) to the hybrid nature of our existence (Hayavadana), all had a strong text as the source of our essential performance. The beginning was the written material. We also tried to interpret the material physically.
However, Krshno Pokkho is a trip other way round. We had the design first. The task was to build the text in the space with the crew member as our primary raw material conforming to the design. The available cast and the source book, Raja, were our tools. We gradually explored the space in the designed way with a skeletal frame of a text and then eventually moved into a permanent worded material. Mayuri Mitra, belonging to a different school of theatre (Sundaram), was a new addition to our experimentation. With her experienced text-depended theatre skills she was a challenge to our fragile texted exploration of the space. It was a mutual discovery of new belief systems and understanding. Debkumar Paul, before leaving for Canada, seeded the physical aspect of the body dynamics in space and consequently we framed our own realization by interpolating text in it. Music was also a very early introduction to our work process. While Debuda exhibited his colossal repository of music, I carved it sharper for the play. Music is almost a character in the production guiding the actors into the complex labyrinth of emotions. Partha Majumder created symbolic props. We fashioned a moving space. As I had insisted on rolling materials (as per the design) he almost got everything on the wheels. The entire movement and shifting was like random images moving in our mind, overlapped, interlinked, juxtaposed or jumbled. Light was a major involvement in this play on obscurity. Uttio Jana enhanced the magic and used light less and darkness more as his guiding thought. He created darkness of diverse quality with his resources. The only challenge was to separate the real from the illusion and he came up with the idea of using the follow-light with a completely different tonal quality.
Finally, when my script got its shape my actors had difficulty in dwelling in three states of existence at the same time. The Truth, the Real and the Illusion; the actor, the character and the protagonist’s strong imaginary world. The play dealt with these three states simultaneously, so, it was a serious concern for all of us to define the difference and at the same time pronounce it well for the audience. We started pointing out specific areas to create such signaling points: the ‘point’ where we transmute. Travel from one state to the other. Was that a pure experience? Transcendental ??????
– Janardan Ghosh
Janardan Ghosh, takes us through the making of Girish Karnad’s play Hayavadana , which he directed in 2010. The play which was staged at Padatik Theatre, ran successfully for 56 shows and received much critical acclaim.
Janardan’s Havavadana, was path breaking in so many ways. The use of interdisciplinary art & performance practices, physical theatre techniques, the site specific nature of the production and the deconstruction of the plot, to produce, what was an unique experience for theatre lovers of the Kolkata. There was actually two parallel performances, one of the stage and the other in garage where a storyteller performed an abridged version of the play. More from the man himself.
HAYAVADANA – A Head or Tale of it……
Hayavadana is a representative work of art by Girish Karnad. Girish is definitely one of the most discussed and honored playwright at the international Showground of contemporary South Asian theatre. This is one of his most popular and most enacted performance texts, which gave birth to a new hybrid theatre as quoted by Erin b. Mee. The play focuses on linear love lore between two friends and their consort, with an animated disturbing end. Padmini is attracted to Kapil, her husband Devdatt’s friend. In a covetous fit Devdatt beheads himself. Kapil discovers the dead body and struck by guilt cuts off his head. Padmini repairs the recklessness by the divine intervention of Goddess Kali. She commits a boo-boo, a bizarre blunder. The question is whether she consciously did it or was it an accident?
Through this play Girish addresses the convolution and complexity of identity in two levels. As pointed out by the critics, the most obvious crisis dealt by the playwright is the predicament faced by the man with the horse’s head (Hayavadana) who is a representative icon of the post independent Indian citizen, squashed in between the British culture and the Indian ethos. The second and the elaborate concern is the crisis of an individual with his head and body. A strong psychosomatic inquiry into the personality and deliverance of sensitive human beings is attempted in the pretense of a play text. Introduction of talking dolls, use of masks, and the traditional Yakshagana form of art and the symbols in abundance renders a vivacious visual treat in the performing space. It was an opportunity seized by most of the prominent directors to decipher and codify a new language of theatre anchored at the shores of Hayavadana.
For me it was an unusual journey through the text in a Space, namely Buildwell Theatre at Padatik. When I first read the text I did not go sequentially, rather chose to dip into portions at random and prepare illustrations emerging from an apparent understanding of the pieces. It bequeathed me with a treasure of visual perspectives. From there I prepared a flow chart and a digital presentation for my crew. Then gradually I attempted to work with the team, exclusively with their bodies in the space. Sri Suman Das, a brilliant Body-Grapher, as I would prefer to call him, with extensive learning in Kalaripayattu, Mime and Rope acrobatics, facilitated the critical choreography. All cerebral activities such as text reading and the analysis was withheld. The actors played, gesticulated, moved and explored the animate self of theirs to a crescendo. Body as a susceptible responsive tool was gradually learning to go to a discourse without significant words. I hate to use the word tool to such a sensitive piece of being, the Body. It existed on its own accord. Gradually we started moving into the text and consequently intellectual attempts were made to decode the meaning or rather endow each and every line and dialogue with a significant suggestion. There emerged the conflict. The body – mind duel. Actors at times were helplessly struggling to cover it up almost aligned forcefully with the words and expressions and at times were drained, exhausted in fear and frustration of dissymmetry, unorganized body movements in an organized text well translated by the renowned Bengali poet and prose writer, Kabi Sankha Ghosh. The entire effort progressively started to take a meditative mood of understanding the beyond; the theatre that I pine for….. A transcendental leap into the unknown with the calmness of a Sannyasin. All restlessness and discomfort with the text and the body in space was tamed to a pensive contemplative state of balance. ….Just like the- type -of Padmini who moves towards the light, the fire of true Knowledge burning her desire and releasing her of all the anxiety that she had…. With the society which did not allow an upper caste young girl to marry a lower caste young man Kapil…. A body which denied the rationale of our socio- political culture…. A heart that desired more than what reality could provide.
Padmini is a rebel with all violence sublimated and consumed. She goes the ‘Tantra’ way to liberation. Body and soul gets an equal importance. Desire is not restrained rather let loose to satiate into pure bliss. Death is a consequence that levitates her persona to a wiser Padmini who can decide, instruct, and then carry out her duty as well. I doubt whether Girish had supported Sati or not by culminating the end of Padmini on an inflamed pyre, but my take is on the word Sati and not the ritual Sati.
Sati, the pure Woman.
Moreover Padmini was so vast and profound that I failed to fit her in one actor and soon sheltered in another. I would prefer a plentiful of Actors playing Padmini and each one of them trying to work on just a single trait of her…beauty, wit, passion, compassion, love, violence, grief, intelligence, lust, purity…. They are so self contradictory yet magically interwoven to generate a dream… endless and fearful like the cosmos. Here I have two actors playing Padmini captures the weird nuances of her paranormal being in separate actors broadening the image of the amazing woman….
The Head, not just the shapes that we are generally concerned about in this play, has more to deliver than what we take in for questioning. How the same head functions differently and drive us crazy… we turn into weirdoes, insane, mad, nutty and…. How we start disbelieving ourselves and place another imaginary head on top of it…. At times a rhino (Rhinoceros, Ionesco) or a Lion(Narashimha, Bhagwat Purana) or a deer( a Bengali play by Indrashis Lahiri, I forgot the name) or a horse to signify the peculiarity… How strangely we carry a different head on our shoulders when we are angry (Devil’s head for Tom in Tom and Jerry Cartoon) or in love (Donkey’s head in Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare)…. This hyperbolic and fantastic representation of various understandings in our Urban and Traditional mythology has been used by the performers to identify the other in oneself. Devdatt and Kapil’s Heads get swapped but they don’t exchange their entire self…. It is the Devdatt in Kapil and Kapil in Devdatt that surface out of the barter. So the treatment is reflective of the issue concerning the influence of culture and politics and the course of events that reproduce such hybrid beings…. Even the play which is partially western and partially Eastern aligns with the theme. From Lord Ganesha to the Horse, from God to the Beast all are victims of this oddity. Yet, the Human’s thrash about it the most….
We need to come to a profound understanding of this and therefore the Play ends with the last Photo Puzzle in the out, where a sculptor cum art enthusiast, Ms. Bipasha Chakravorty, with her involvement with the meta-text of the play desirous to create a foray of cut heads with lost bodies signifying the triumph of heads over bodies, is continuously working with heads of different shapes and sizes and kinds….
The heads that we are born with and the heads that we make out of them…..
The set has been designed by Sri Partho Mazumdar, who preferred a Human female’s body as a scenic backdrop to engulf the performing space. This attracted my attention as I found the female body to be a symbol of impersonal nature fettered to the tide of time that represented the stage. And the Actors in the space as males (irrespective of their sexes) were free to move with their creative urge exploring the space. It was a symbolic copulation of Shiva (the neutral space) and Shakti (The actors), which produced the theatre; a metaphorical dropping of the creative seed, the semen…. Later, after his construction was done by the spread out leg of a hidden-head-woman, or rather Ganesha covers her head with his heavy presence, I could relate it to Puranic Lajja Gauri, the shy Goddess with exposed genitalia…. The body suggests the Nature, the absent face suggests “impersonality” of the set, the stance is that of a woman ready to offer herself to her beloved…that is a strong image of pleasure-giving and fertility…..
I preferred Chinnomasta in place of Kali because she is a version of Kali as a Tantric goddess of Rasa, the juice of life. The cutting of her head and drinking her own blood signifies the sustenance of life on life itself. The deaths and the reliving of the characters go effortlessly with the Mythos. Though the Kali designed by Girish is drowsy and old… funny and tempered, but I felt that Padmini and Devdutt and Kapil with their intentions and anticipations could only relate to Chinnomasta and to no other versions of Shakti.
Music is a marvel created by a young and a promising artist and designer Sri Shuvam Moitro; Shuvam is more into contemporary music, exploring the world of neo-bangla trend of filtering western rock and jazz into traditional Gharana music and folk. At certain moments I have ushered him in as a solo performer with no characters on stage but the music alone in the empty space…. Sri Subrata Ghosh has initially helped us with the music design and we have used his tune for the Ganesh Vandana. Shuvam had worked upon the music of Ora Dujon, which was at first tuned by Subrato as a rough cut.
Lights designed by Sri Uttio Jana have flirted with the emotions and moods rampant in the space and has underplayed the time bound lights. He deliberately goes against the mood at times to generate a conflict, a dialogue with the mood of the scene. ‘Techy’ lasers to the age old spot lights in unison complemented the scenic prospect.
I enjoyed working with my extremely energetic and committed actors who have continuously enriched me with the semiotics of the body in space with their improvisations and the vocal orchestration of the dialogues and monologues. They had placed their bodies and a part of their intellect at my disposal in volition. A gargantuan task I had, to maneuver them in the pretext of the play and create a smooth stream of picturesque propositions, inconsistent ideas and diverse people…. Padmini played by Antara and Simran was a confluence of two cultural statuses; Antara an Actor with an exposure to mainstream Bangla group theatre is highly experimental and Simran, a strict vegetarian, a Jain, a teacher of Hindi, was closed to experiments with body; It was a resource in itself for the dramaturge in me. Krishnendu plays Devdutt and Ayan plays Kapil, the former is more intense where the latter more boisterous. The puppets are operated by two young and enthusiastic actors, Narendra and Piyali. The Man with the Horses Head is played by Joy. The chorus is played by a very cooperative and strong team constituting Avijan, Susanta, Sankha and Arindam. They also run the errands that make a production complete in itself. Kali and Nat is played by veteran actors Robin da and Anuradha di, they are fantastic as team members. A different school of theatre has groomed them to have a certain rigidity in concept which they gradually tried to shed off and participated in the workshops with a very progressive and flexible mind. Myriad ideas though at loggerheads at times moved into the right places for their sincerity and dedication.
The costume and the colour code were evolved through consecutive discussions among the actors, Gopal da, Tutul da gave inputs. Makeup artists helping the troop are Tutul da, Arun da and Pushpa (a female theatre makeup artist that is very rare in our Kolkata theatre circuit). Rasbehari plays the music for the play.
Loads of thanks to Swapan da of Padatik whose presence itself gives us strength. He has been facilitating us with all the background support that was required to come up with the production. Lakhi di was as cooperative as ever.
This is the last paragraph with the most important attachment which prompted the production to where it is now. Sri Shyamanand Jalan and Chetna DI (Ms. Chetna Jalan) had been a mentor throughout, guiding me from time to time on the finer details of the production. At the same time they would never ever intervene in the design and direction of the play. They have provided an interesting platform for young artists to explore, experiment and discover the strange world of theatre. Shyamanadji helped us with a meeting with the playwright Girish Karnad where we could discuss his play before we took off for the Stage/ Space….
A mystical ride indeed…..
Articles by Others
Janardan Ghosh’s Theatrical adaptation of Girish Karnad’s Hayavadana: A Transcendental Experience –
Dr. Payal Trivedi
Theatre director Janardan Ghosh (Kolkata) stands apart from his contemporaries on account of his philosophical approach to theatre which is unlike the commercial outlook of the urban Indian drama largely oriented towards making monetary profit. Ghosh’s statement, “Theatre I pine for (is)… A Transcendental leap into the unknown with the calmness of a Sannyasin”…(Ghosh interviewed 2010) is certainly a unique perspective which recalls for us the sacred tradition of art in India devoid of materialistic concerns espoused by the ancient Indian treatise the Natyasastra(200BCE – 200 CE). This is best reflected in his presentation of the renowned Indian playwright Girish Karnad’s play Hayavadana(Padatak Theatre Kolkata 2010) The production can undoubtedly be called ‘old’ considering the fact that it is almost been five years since its inception. Nevertheless, Ghosh’s illumination of the spiritual aspect in Indian playwriting as endorsed in the classical Indian treatise Natyasastra has made this theatrical presentation of Karnad’s Hayavadana inimitably timeless and thus perennially worthy of attention.
Ghosh’s production invokes Ardhanareshwara–Shiva and Shakti or purusha and prakriti in the setting of the play before the beginning of the performance. It primarily brings about the realization that Natya or drama in the Indian tradition springs from the Nataraja – Shiva who is to be rightfully prayed during the start of any production and that Indian theatre is not just another commercial activity pursued for minting money. This cleanly distinguishes art in the Indian concept from that of the West which I feel is a realization that becomes mandatory in today’s times when urban Indian theatre with ‘lights, camera and action’ is largely seen devoid of its revered meaning. The director says, “The set has been designed by Sri Partho Mazumdar, who preferred a Human female’s body as a scenic backdrop to engulf the performing space. ..I found the female body to be a symbol of impersonal nature fettered to the tide of time that represented the stage…the body suggests the nature…that of a woman ready to offer herself to her beloved…that is the strong image of pleasure-giving and fertility…And the Actors in the space as males (irrespective of the sexes) were free to move with their creative urge exploring the space. It was a symbolic copulation of Shiva( the neutral space) and Shakti (the actors) …(Ghosh’s Brochure on Hayavadana 2012)
Ghosh’s choice of the set-design emblematic of the union of Shiva and Shaktialso seems a veritable recognition of the fact that the proportionate blend of two apparent binary opposites stri and purusha or male and female enables counter the incompleteness felt by men and women throughout their lives. The combination of a man’s sense and a woman’s sensibility makes a complete or a perfect persona and no man or woman is solely perfect or complete. This is an integral message implied in Girish Karnad’s play Hayavadana. The female protagonist of Karnad’s play is Padmini, the beautiful damsel in search of a “complete man” with a combination of sound body and sound intellect based on the common understanding that head is the master of the human body. In order to fulfill her wish, she avails a chance to exchange the heads of her intellectual husband Devadatta and his able-bodied friend Kapila but this exchange does not bring any benefit to her. The men with their heads interchanged cannot satiate her urge for a complete man as their bodies soon turn to their original shape. As a result, Padmini gets utterly disillusioned for her attraction towards Kapila’s macho physique which proves that her desire to obtain a complete man is futile as there is no complete man in this world; a known fact which is implicitly conveyed by Karnad in the play through the story that is actually borrowed from Kathasaritasagara (The Ocean of folktales 11th century attributed to Somadeva). In the original story, a woman Madanasundari happens to accidently exchange the heads of her husband and her brother and accepts the man with her husband’s head based on the common notion that head is the master of the body. Karnad’s Hayavadana dismantles this thinking and questions whether head actually rules the human body and the question is increasingly pertinent in today’s world wherein we see humans not making sense out of their apparently sensible organ i.e. the head misusing it for destructible purposes. To put across this message in front of the audience, Janardan Ghosh intelligently uses some of the photographs of celebrities with their heads exchanged on a bulletin board for instance Manmohan Singh’s head on Soniya Gandhi’s body etc., It seems an indirect way of questioning whether heads exchanged on bodies would or would not make any difference to humans. It is evident that Ghosh has a very candid way of getting across the message in Karnad’s play. However, this straightforward mode does not overshadow his philosophical way of telling Karnad’s tale to the spectators resorting to the primeval Indian spiritual concept. While he puts these weird photographs in front of the people, he also makes sure that he begins his presentation with a Mantra – Bhadram Karnebihishnuyamdevaha from the Rigveda. Mandala (Book) 1: Sukta (Hymn) 89: Mantra (Line/ Stanza): 8 which elucidates the importance of the sensory organs like eyes and ears that are meant for humans to see and hear the preaching or values of morality. Beginning with this recitation, Ghosh not only indicates his viewers that he means to present an Indian play executing the ancient Indian theatrical tradition of initiating any performance with an auspicious invocation to the deity, (as he also indicates with his set-design alluding to Shiva and Shakti) but he also implies that his audience must comprehend the spiritual message ingrained in Karnad’s play. (at least, I feel so)
Hayavadana is a play that interrogates the significance of the human head on the human body and for the same; Karnad uses the imagery of Ganesha the lord with an elephant head and human body. The play initiates with Ganesha prayer followed by Bhagavata’s (sutradhara’s) question on the apparent imperfection of the lord’s appearance which is taken for granted as perfection. This, at the very outset signifies to the readers that the initiative is towards comprehending the essence in Ganesha’s apparently distorted image. Among all the performances of the play that I’ve seen so far, Janardan Ghosh’s, Hayavadana explores this implied meaning in Karnad’s text brilliantly on the stage. The viewers are taken from an open air location to a closed auditorium while reciting hymns in praise of Ganesha. The significance of meditation is implied in this brief journey of the audience from outside to inside paradigmatic of the journey within the consciousness to understand the import of the philosophical question ‘Who am I’. Initiating the play by implying the necessity to ‘know thyself’ in order to comprehend the meaning of completeness, Janardan Ghosh appears paying a tribute to Indian spiritual school of thought which promotes the understanding that completeness is beyond the material definition of perfection and Ganesha is an apt evidence of the same as his animal head and human body is an imperfect image as per the social standards and yet he is the lord of perfection. Karnad’s play brings in the emblem of Ganesha and denotes that perhaps human head and human body are not enough to be perfect or complete humans. Janardan Ghosh highlights during his representation of the play that humans have to enter into the process of self-introspection in order to comprehend the meaning of completeness as he takes his audience from the mundane outside world to inside the closed silent auditorium which demands switching off the mobile phones as his actors demand at the very onset of the action thus indicating that all worldly concerns have to be discarded to gain the realization of the highest order. This Indian spiritual terrain advocating the negation of the earthly attachments in order to arrive at an understanding of completeness becomes further conspicuous in Ghosh’s production of Karnad’s Hayavadana during his interpretation of the main plot of Padmini. In Karnad’s Hayavadana, Goddess Kalisatisfies Padmini’s desire to obtain a complete man by exchanging the heads of the two men Devadatta and Kapila. Director Janardan Ghosh sees Kali in the play as Chinnomosta Devi. He states, I preferred Chinnomosta in place of Kali because she is a version of Kali as a Tantric goddess of Rasa. The juice of life. The cutting of her head and drinking her own blood signifies the sustanence of life on life itself. (Ghosh’s Brochure on Hayavadana 2012)
The goddess Chinnomosta sacrificed her head in order to fulfill the thirst for blood of the fellow goddesses after killing the danavas or demons. Chinnomostais an embodiment of self sacrifice. When Padmini is described as Kali who kills the demons and Ghosh identifies the goddess Kali as Chinnomosta, his interpretation seems to bear the implication that femininity in the Hindu tradition is aggressive and intimidating bloodthirsty goddess but is also the sublime prakriti that nurtures the world through her sacrifice. Ghosh signifies in his production that this Chinnomosta Devi when fulfills Padmini’s desire of having a complete man in her life, self-sacrifice is accompanied in her boon. This is because, when Padmini becomes a Sati in the end as her desire to obtain a complete man remains unfulfilled and she dies in the funeral pyre of both the men who kill each other in a sword fight, Ghosh makes her take an eminent flight from the worldly to the non-worldly abode where all material attainments become insignificant and the only truth that remains is union of the Jiva with the Shiva. Therefore, in this respect, Ghosh’s choice of stage design alluding to Shivaand Shakti also seems the apt backdrop for the rendition of Karnad’s play highlighting its spiritual import.
Karnad weaves a small sub-plot of a horse-head creature in Hayavadana. This creature has a horse’s head and a human body and he longs to become perfect by getting rid of his animal head in order to become a complete man. Karnad chooses this figure to question the significance of human head on human body as he feels Ganesha being the awesome God would not serve the purpose in the same endeavor. We see that the horse-head creature does become a complete horse in the end, but does not become a complete human. Director Janardan Ghosh does not choose to elaborate the sub-plot of the play in his production. It seems closing his play with Padmini receiving a discourse from the sutradhara/preceptor (played by Ghosh himself) on the fleeting nature of human life, the director makes his intent of philosophical interpretation of Karnad’s play very clear. Ghosh chooses an artist who sits outside the auditorium regularly making statues which seems indicating that till the humans remain circumscribed by the material, it would make illumination regarding self impossible. This is the message implied in the Kathopanishada which describes the necessity of the human mind to keep control over the swift horses that represent material desire in order to attain spiritual enlightenment (Vatsyayan 22-23). As Ghosh gives a discourse to his heroine in the end about the ephemeral human existence and nature of the soul, this thought of the Kathopanishada is reverberated in the mind and it starts traversing the empirical abode escalating towards spiritual enlightenment.
Ghosh has not only given a new meaning to Karnad’s play by interpreting the play in the Indian spiritual light but has also underlined the significance of performing a play in the Indian dramatic tradition wherein every theatrical rendition as candidly presented in the Natyasastra is a sacred activity of the Yajna for it germinated in order to illumine humanity towards the attainment of transcendental state of beatitude or moksha. As the director says, … ‘Theatre is purgatory it sanitizes me and my actors, and even purges the society. It prepares us for a healthy journey and a coveted end, presumably Moksha.’ (Janardan Ghosh, bio-brief via email 2013)
Janardan Ghosh’s Brochure on Hayavadana. 2012. (sent via email)
Karnad, Girish. Hayavadana. OUP, 1976.
Karnad, Girish. “Preface on the Natyasastra in Knowledge, Tradition, Text. Approaches to Bharata’s Natyasastra”. Sangeeta Natak Academi Ed Amrit Srinivasan. : Hope India Publications, 2007.
Kurtkoti, Kirtinath. “Girish Karnad An Introduction.”. Contemporary Indian Theatre, 1989(September): 79-83.
Kapoor, Kapil. Literary Theory: Indian Conceptual Framework. New Delhi: EWP, 1998.
Rangacharya, Adya. Trans. The Natyasastra. Munshiram Manoharlal Publications, 1996.
Vatsyayan, Kapila. Bharata: The Natyasastra. Sahitya Academi, 2001.
*Hayavadana: An inspiring play by Girish Karnad that talks about the incompleteness experienced at various mortal beings in life as they constantly equate completeness with physical or material perfection. The play has a horse-head creature(Hayavadana: who has a horse’s head and a human body)in search of completeness. He wishes to become complete human by getting rid of his horse-head. The main plot of the play has the female-protagonist Padmini who mismatches the heads of her husband Devadatta and his friend Kapila in a Kali temple in order to avail a complete human in her life with a combination of brain and brawn. She thus makes the mistake of equating completeness with physical perfection and finally has to pay a heavy price for her misconception. She becomes completely disillusioned as her husband Devadatta’s head attached to Kapila’s body fails to retain the agility of Kapila and thus becomes fragile. Thus, Padmini does not get a complete or perfect combination of sound mind and sound body but rather remains dejected as her husband’s body converts into a frail built. Finally, she runs to Kapila who manages to transform Devadatta’s delicate body into a strong physique through the means of exercise. However, Kapila also talks about the memories of the body independent of the head on which he fails to have control. In the meanwhile, Devadatta comes in search of Padmini and finds her with Kapila. Thus, seeing his wife with his friend, Devadatta gets annoyed and engages in a duel with Kapila. In the end both the men die and Padmini becomes Sati. The play is based on the story of Mandansundari (in Kathasaritasagara)- the woman exchanged the heads of her husband and brother in front of goddess Durga. Thomas Mann’s novella Transposed Heads also inspired Girish Karnad to compose this play. The strength of the play lies in its undertones regarding the inability of humans to become complete at the human/ mortal level which makes it philosophically relevant and provokes the quest for the meaning of completeness or perfection in the metaphysical sense.